Though the runways have become immensely more diverse over the years — the Spring 2018 women's shows in New York were the most ethnically inclusive ever, comprised of an estimated 36.9 percent models of color — there's still a disconnect in terms of diversity when we look beyond fulfilling a numerical quota. Head backstage at any NYFW show, and amidst the chaos, you're bound to find models of color left waiting around for access to the one stylist or makeup artist who knows how to work with their hair texture or skin tone. Plain and simple, the backstage beauty process is lagging behind any on-the-runway strides in diversity.
Last season, model Londone Myers took to social media to speak out about having experienced issues with hairstylists who were inept at styling her hair type. "I don't need special treatment from anyone. What I need is for hairstylists to learn how to do Black hair," she wrote, beneath a hyperlapse video of herself sitting around, waiting for a hairstylist with the proper skill set to work with her. "I'm so tired of people avoiding doing my hair at shows," she went on. "How dare you try to send me down the runway with a linty busted Afro. We all know if you tried that on a white model you'd be #canceled 👌🏽 If one doesn't stand we all fall. If it isn't my fro it'll probably be yours."
If the fashion industry is set on making diversity a priority, the hair and makeup teams working backstage must be able to cater to all models with equal care and skill level. As fashion month kicks off, we turned to beauty pros and models for some concrete, constructive ways those responsible for backstage prep can step it up this season and beyond.
The reality is, though the numbers of models of color on the runways are growing, there are many hair stylists who don't have experience working with a variety of hair types that aren't like their own. "In my opinion, some of the challenges some women of color face in comparison to the Caucasian models is improper treatment in preparation for shows, shoots and jobs, especially during fashion week. That goes from not having the proper foundations suitable for a brown girl's complexion down to the lack of hair products suitable for textured hair,” says Fenton model Kelly Gervais, whose Afro made a splash on the runways last season in shows like Pyer Moss, Alice & Olivia and Maki Oh.
Gervais recalls instances of getting prepped backstage, noticing that models with natural hair like hers were left untouched by hair stylists. "I can recall a few experiences where I would walk up with my Afro and they would tell me that I'm already done, that I was perfect just the way I was," she says. "I would go in the bathroom and tweak myself a tad bit. I would watch the other girls get their hair all done and made up. Lack of experience with natural hair doesn’t give professionals a pass so when I have the opportunity to share my knowledge on what products I use, I share."
Hairstylist and makeup artist T. Cooper – who has worked the backstage circuit for labels including Chromat, LaQuan Smith and VFiles – agrees, noting that she's seen hairstylists be dismissive backstage of models of color because they have no familiarity with natural hair textures. "They don't understand that Afros, kinks and coils need love, too. I also noticed that a lot of hairstylists don't have the necessary tools to style models of color," she adds. "While a blow dryer, large barrel curlers and a flat iron are a good start, they're just not enough." And when it comes to working with natural hair, it's important to know how a model's hair takes heat; unfortunately, some will walk away with damaged hair due to a lack of this knowledge.
So what can hairstylists do to properly reflect the needs of their models? Unquestionably, starting off with a diverse team of hairstylists always works in everyone's favor. "We like to have a culturally diverse team; this helps with being prepared for [models of] any ethnicity," says Cooper. "I think a huge problem is the lack of presence of African-American hair stylists backstage. Brands really need to diversify their hair teams to include stylists who specialize in textured hair. If they have natural hair specialists on their team, not only could they make sure that the models of color are well taken care of, they can also help to educate other hairstylists who may need a little help."
The responsibility also falls on the lead (or "key") hairstylist helming the show, says hairstylist Lacy Redway, who regularly works with celebrities and models alike for red carpets and editorial campaigns, as well as backstage. "When working at a level of being a key hairstylist and hiring a team, it's important to be able to provide the same quality of service to everyone," she says. "At that level, you should be able to work on all hair textures and know how to whip out any look asked of you by the designer."
For hair teams, it's also crucial to understand that different hair textures and types have different needs. "You really need to educate yourself on what tools and products work best for certain hair types," says Cooper. "I see a lot of models with Afros complaining about stylists not even attempting to do anything to their hair. What's her approach? "I love using a tiny curling iron or a diffuser on models with Afros to define their curls, but in the case that a model is heat-free, you need to make sure that you have flexi rods, curling gels, twisting butters, oils. Edge control is must! Edges can make or break a look."
This type of knowledge and skill comes with experience, says Cooper. "Years ago, I would've said that the lack of knowledge in hairstyling techniques for women of color is a cultural thing, but with fashion becoming more culturally diverse, it's definitely a lack of training/education on the stylists' part," she explains. "As a hairstylist, you should be able to step into a room, and be able to do anyone’s hair. You don't have to be the best at it, but you should at least have a general idea, enough so that you can do a decent job."
Redway's perspective is similar: "My advice to all hairstylists, no matter what level they're at, is to never stop learning. You can learn from anyone at any level because techniques advance overtime. I can learn things from my assistants just as they learn from me."
Being equipped to work with all skin canvases is an integral part of the job of a makeup artist, says makeup artist Michael Patterson, whose celebrity clients include Danielle Brooks, Cynthia Erivo and Teyonah Parris: "Every makeup artist needs an arsenal of products that can create looks for every skin type and skin tone." He recommends MAC's Studio Correct and Conceal palettes as a kit staple. "These palettes offer a wide range of shades and color-correcting benefits for all skin tones," he says.
An experienced artist should also know how to translate the designer's beauty vision on every model, despite skin tone or facial structure or features. "For example, a pink blush on a light- to medium-toned model wouldn't read the same on a deep-tone model," says Patterson. "The makeup artist would need the skill set to choose a color blush color to create the same [effect] on a model of color. A makeup artist that is not able to navigate all tones in beauty — with knowledge, skill or products — will not be successful backstage."
The ability to put aside one's pride and know when to ask for help is also a crucial quality for backstage beauty teams, says Camara Aunique, a makeup artist who has worked with June Ambrose, Yandy Smith and Chloe X Halle. "I tell people every day: Use your resources and be open to learning. It's so amazing when artists come together and teach each other to be great and successful."
For many models of color — especially those with deeper, darker skin pigments — finding a makeup artist backstage who is adequately prepared to work with their complexion can be daunting. "One time, the makeup artist for a show asked me if a shade in her kit was my shade before starting to apply my foundation. I told her, 'I don't have that foundation, but I brought my own,'" recalls model Malyia McNaughton, who is represented by State Management. "I'm sure she now has a few more shades in her kit."
With makeup brands making more of a concerted effort to extend their shade ranges and become more inclusive — thanks, Fenty Effect — the market is full of options for artists looking to build a well-rounded kit. And because of that, it's less acceptable than ever before for a pro to merely add two or three shades of brown to their lineup and call it a day. We're living in a time when the options catering to a variety of shades and undertones are out there, assuming a makeup artist takes the time to stock up on them. "There are multiple needs for various skin tones," notes Aunique. "For instance, [Southeast Asian] models who have red undertones tend to get color-matched wrong and wear the wrong color foundation."
Among her favorite shade-inclusive brands are Danessa Myricks Beauty, Self Love Cosmetics and — you guessed it! — Fenty Beauty. "They offer products that blend well with many undertones," she says. Cooper's go-to brands AJ Crimson, MAC, and Bobbi Brown offer foundation palettes, cutting down the size and weight of carrying multiple bottles and products. Another crucial makeup item for backstage beauty teams to have on hand? Color adjusters. Cooper likes the ones from Face Atelier.
Though the industry has grown more diverse, it could do more to ensure that all feel equally welcome. Starting with the discussion that everyone is not the same — and that that's okay — is how beauty teams, both on and off the runway, will continue to push the way forward. "I remember a period where for a lot of my jobs, I felt I was just [helping them] make a quota, because I was that token woman of color out of a cast of 16, and it was a constant reminder the lack of diversity," recalls Gervais. "But times are changing." Surely, but slowly. About damn time.
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